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Monday, 23 March 2015

Pupil premium closing the gap between rich & poor

New evidence shows that the gap between rich and poor children in schools is narrowing, the Liberal Democrats say its thanks to the Pupil Premium they've delivered in government. The Pupil Premium provides schools with their share of £2.5bn a year to support the most disadvantaged pupils. Liberal Democrats say they believe that a child's success at school and future aspirations should not be determined by their parents' wealth.

Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is today calling on all political leaders to ensure that this vital work to create a fairer society is a pillar of future education policy. The Liberal Democrats say they're planning a manifesto commitment to protect the education budget from cradle to college in the next Parliament.

For years it has been accepted that there is a gap between the results disadvantaged children obtain compared to their better off peers. New analysis of schools by the Department for Education shows that the secondary schools using the Pupil Premium to best effect have halved this gap in three years, and the best primary schools have almost entirely removed it in two years.

If this trend was to continue in all schools, the gap between rich and poor could be completely closed in ten years. The research looked at the best schools put forward for a Pupil Premium award and shows that the gap between children eligible for Pupil Premium funding and others has narrowed, or closed entirely, when comparing the percentage of their children reaching the expected standards.

Schools that have succeeded have tailored the support given to pupils, from one to one tutoring, to maths clubs, breakfast clubs, and getting parents more involved in their child’s education.

Commenting Nick Clegg said: "It is a national tragedy that in a modern, open society like ours a child’s destiny is still being determined by their background. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to help pupils catch up and keep up. This new analysis challenges the myth that children from wealthy families will always do better than their less privileged peers. This is why I introduced the Pupil Premium in the first place."

“We still have a long way to go and need to continue investing so that all children get the best start in life.  In just a few days time I’ll be meeting schools at the Pupil Premium awards who are leading the way in using that money to help disadvantaged children. I want all schools to reach those heights so that we can build a fairer society for all, and banish the link between a family’s wealth and their child’s success to the history books." Mr Clegg added.

Cameron, Miliband & Clegg in 'cash for access' sting

Today’s Daily Telegraph front page reports that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was filmed by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme meeting Paul Wilmott, who said he was considering large donations to each of the three main parties. It also reports that the same man met the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg.

The SNP has responded today saying that the latest 'cash for access' scandal showing David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have been caught meeting a fake businessman posing as a potential donor is 'further evidence' that Scotland needs a strong team of SNP MPs elected to shake up the Westminster establishment.

At the weekend a senior Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Strasburger, resigned the Lib Dem whip after having accepted a potentially illegal donation to the party through a ‘proxy’ donor. This came only a week after Senior Liberal Democrat cabinet minister, Danny Alexander, was implicated in a similar dodgy donations row over another potentially illegal donation.

Commenting on the news, the SNP’s General Election Campaign Director, Angus Robertson, said: “The Libs Dems are totally engulfed in a series of dodgy donations allegations – and now it seems that Labour and the Tories are up to their necks in it too. The leaders and senior figures from the three Westminster parties are now at the centre of dodgy donation scandals."

"A strong team of SNP MPs will always put Scotland’s interests first – in comparison to a Westminster establishment which lurches from one donations scandal to the next, and which works in the interests of the few rather than the many." Mr Robertson added.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Labour launch first election poster, on the NHS

The Labour party is today launching its first poster of the 2015 general election campaign. The poster follows this week’s Budget which Labour claim set out plans for deeper cuts to public spending in the next three years than the last five years. The poster warns that the National Health Service can’t afford this Tory plan's for extreme cuts to public spending. Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, and Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, are unveiling the poster in the Labour target seat of Harlow today, which by coincidence is currently represented by Chancellor George Osborne's PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary) Robert Halfon.

Labour's new election poster

Following the Budget Labour is also publishing new analysis of Tory spending plans which takes into account their planned welfare reductions and promised tax cuts. This analysis shows that in the next three years the Tories are planning cuts to public services which are deeper than any year of the last parliament; and in the next three years cuts to public services will be almost twice the level of the last three years. The cuts to public services like police, defence and social care under these plans would be so deep they’d be almost impossible to achieve and so people will conclude that to make their sums add up the Tories will end up cutting our NHS. OECD countries which have cut public spending at the pace which George Osborne plans ended up cutting health spending. If equivalent cuts to health spending were imposed on the UK, this could mean £7 billion being cut from the NHS.

Commenting at the poster launch Ed Balls said: "George Osborne’s Budget set out plans for deeper and more extreme spending cuts after the election. These plans go beyond simply balancing the books. They would mean deeper spending cuts in the next three years than the last five years. In 2018 spending on day-to-day public services as a share of national income will be at its lowest level since 1938. The cuts to public services like police, defence and social care under these plans would be so deep they’d be almost impossible to achieve. People will conclude that to make their sums add up the Tories will end up cutting our NHS."

Continuing Mr Balls said: "OECD countries which have cut public spending at the pace which George Osborne plans ended up cutting health spending. If equivalent cuts to health spending were imposed on the UK, this could mean £7 billion being cut from the NHS. This would have a disastrous impact on services and staffing levels. Britain needs a better plan. Labour will get the deficit down in a more sensible and balanced way. And we have a fully-funded plan to save our NHS and transform it for the future. Labour’s plan means 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs and cancer tests guaranteed within one week. And we’ll pay for it by closing tax loopholes and a mansion tax on properties worth over £2 million."

"After five years of David Cameron, our health service is going backwards. Our NHS just can’t afford these extreme and risky Tory cuts. And after their broken promises on the NHS in this Parliament nobody will trust what the Tories say about the NHS." Ed Balls added.

Also commenting Andy Burnham said: "The Tories are completely silent on the NHS. They had nothing to offer it in the Budget and are desperate not to talk about it during the election campaign. The OBR has predicted a rollercoaster ride for public services in the next Parliament under these Budget plans. The trouble is, the NHS is in no fit state to go on a white-knuckle ride. After five years of David Cameron, the NHS is heading downhill. He’s broken every promise he made on the NHS and Tory care cuts in this Parliament have caused the A&E crisis. Even deeper care cuts in the next will throw the whole of the NHS into crisis."

"It is clear that the NHS as we know it can’t survive five more years of the Tories." Mr Burnham added.

Clegg's plan to improve rail links in the north

The Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will today set out new plans to revolutionise travel in the north, including a new "TransNorth" rail system and road investments. A report released today by the government and Transport for the North (TfN), sets out a long term strategy to connect up the north, create a single economy and allow northern towns and cities to pool their strengths.

The plans include slashing journey times between major northern cities with investment in high speed rail, developing new east-west road connections including a road tunnel under the peak district and introducing Oyster-style smart travel cards and simpler fares across the North. The report builds on the concept of High Speed 3 to connect the great cities of the north with a network of high quality rail connections.

This ‘TransNorth’ network – with sections capable of speeds up to 140mph - would link Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull. With such a network journey times between Liverpool and Manchester could be as low as 20 minutes; Manchester to Sheffield and Leeds could both be 30 minutes; Leeds to Hull could be just 45, and Sheffield to Hull 50 minutes. Journey times from Manchester to Newcastle could be cut by 25 per cent.

Making the announcement Nick Clegg is expected to say: "As part of my Northern Futures plan, I listened to what people wanted and have taken decisive action. I’ve already pledged to rid the region of rattling old pacer trains, introduced smarter ticketing in Sheffield and increased capacity on commuter services. All of this will ensure the North can race ahead in a stronger economy and doesn't become one big bottleneck.

“I'm extremely proud to be announcing this new strategy which will be transformative for the region. Modernising rail in the North and speeding up connections between cities will encourage business, boost tourism and give commuters the transport network they deserve.” Mr Clegg is expected to add.

Commenting on Nick Clegg's transport plans for the North of England, Rupert Read, Transport Spokesperson for the Green Party, said: "This announcement packages up some already-announced road-building plans with a more speculative wish-list of rail-expansion plans. But that gets things completely the wrong way around. Green priorities would be for the road plans to be scrapped and the commitment to rail to be stronger, firmer, and clearer."

"What this country needs is not yet more roads, increasing our dependence on an expensive and carbon intensive form of travel, but real and rapid investment in our railways, delivering a public service we can be proud of and that is run in the interest of passengers. That can only be achieved by bringing railways back into public hands. Now that would be a real renaissance for rail, in the North and countrywide." Mr Read added.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Greens call for urgent action on housing crisis

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England has launched a new report today on the UK housing crisis called “Everyone knows we have a housing crisis: let’s do something about it”. The report is officially launched in Oxford this evening at the Grove Auditorium, Magdalen College from 6.30pm – 8.30pm alongside guest speakers Professor Danny Dorling and author Anna Minton. Oxford is officially the UK’s least affordable city to live in.

Keith Taylor will also be touring South East England over the next 3 weeks to speak about the report in Brighton, Canterbury, Winchester, Reading and Guildford. See below for some stand out headlines from the report:
  • The report re-affirms the need to build more social rented homes (council housing) and argues that 8650 new social rented homes should be built across the South East region per year.
  • Other policy recommendations include the implementation of a land value tax, council tax reform, new powers for local authorities to bring empty homes back into use and the decriminalisation of squatting in residential properties.
  • In 2013/14, no new homes were completed by local authorities in the South East.
  • The report argues that affordable housing needs to be redefined based on local income and not market rates. 
  • Homes in the South East now cost 12 times the average salary.
  • The South East has seen the biggest rise in rough sleeping levels with a shocking 96% overall rise since 2010.
  • Only 17 houses were brought back into use across the whole country in 2014 under the Government’s Empty Dwelling Management Orders. In the South East, the number deployed for 2014 was zero.
  • Margaret Thatcher´s introduction of 'right to buy' council housing has led directly to a chronic shortage of social housing, and the resultant long waiting lists.

Commenting Keith Taylor said: "People have had enough of living in fear - not knowing how they are going to make next month’s rent. It is imperative that the debate now moves on to looking at the radical but necessary solutions to the housing crisis. It is time to move away from treating houses purely as financial assets to be shuffled around for maximum gain and instead ensure that we provide decent and affordable homes that meet people’s needs."

"This report demonstrates that housing has become unsustainably expensive, and that fresh political will and innovative mechanisms are needed to make housing work for people again." Mr Taylor added.

Plaid Cymru and the SNP launch stinging attacks on Ed Balls for 'backing the Tory budget'

Plaid Cymru's Treasury spokesperson, Jonathan Edwards, and Scottish National Party Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hosie have attacked Labour's Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls after he was asked by the Today programme what he would reverse from Osborne’s Budget, Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls replied that there was nothing, saying "From yesterday to be honest… there's nothing I'm saying to you from yesterday I would reverse."

Having spent yesterday outlining, what he calls, Plaid Cymru's positive alternative for balancing the books without punishing the poor, Mr Edwards responded to Mr Balls' comments by saying: "By admitting that he would not reverse the Budget, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has confirmed that Labour and the Tories alike are intent on inflicting more pain on our communities."

Continuing his attack on Labour, Jonathan Edwards said: "This is the latest in a long line of events which have seen Labour's plans mirror the Tories. Only a few months ago both parties walked hand in hand through the voting lobbies to support £30bn more cuts to public services. Now we have Labour's Shadow Chancellor openly backing a Tory Budget. People in Wales are fed up of Labour's hypocrisy - criticising Tory cuts in public while voting them through behind the scenes.

Turning to why Plaid Cymru are the alternative Mr Edwards commented: "Only one party in Wales is committed to protecting our public services and securing a good deal for our nation. That party is Plaid Cymru. A strong group of Plaid Cymru MPs in Westminster after May 7th will ensure that Wales' voice is heard and that our communities are protected from Labour and Tory austerity."

The Scottish National Party echoed Plaid Cymru saying a strong team of SNP MPs in Westminster will mean a strong voice for Scotland. Commenting, SNP Deputy Leader and Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hosie MP said: "Labour have now confirmed there would be no respite for Scotland by agreeing with the proposed Tory cuts."

Mr Hosie continued: "Those hoping a Labour government would offer an alternative to the Tories will be disappointed- but we already knew a majority of Labour MPs voted recently in the House of Commons hand in hand with the Tories for £30bn of extra cuts in the next government. Under Osborne's plans- and now Labour’s plans- there will be additional cuts to welfare, tax credits and public sector pensions, with overall cuts set to be far larger than anything we have seen over the past five years."

Turning his attention to the Liberal Democrats, Stewart Hosie said: "Meanwhile Danny Alexander has failed to distance himself from the Tories with his feeble statement in Parliament today. Danny Alexander himself voted with other Lib Dem MPs for £30bn of additional cuts, and people will not easily forget that the Lib Dems voted for the bedroom tax and tripling tuition fees- and they are facing political annihilation as a result."

On why he thinks more SNP MPs are needed after the election, Stewart Hosie said: "A strong team of SNP MPs in May will mean a strong voice for Scotland - to win the powers promised to Scotland, reverse austerity cuts in favour of investing in growth and jobs, and stop the waste of tens of billions of pounds on a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons."

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Lib Dems: Tax cut delivered for millions of workers

The Liberal Democrats say that in government they are delivering a tax cut worth £905 for millions of workers, the Budget has confirmed. From April 2016, the personal tax allowance will increase from £10,600 to £10,800 and will increase again in April 2017 to £11,000 meaning that millions of workers will be able to keep more of their hard earned cash. As a result of increases to the personal allowance, a typical basic rate taxpayer will be £905 a year better off in 2017/18 compared with 2010/11. Income tax cuts for working people were a top priority for Liberal Democrats when they entered the coalition in 2010. The Conservatives said it was not affordable but Liberal Democrats say that in government have fought tooth and nail to cut taxes for workers.

Cutting taxes for workers by raising the personal allowance to £10,000 was on the front page of the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto. The Liberal Democrat commitment to reduce taxes for low and middle-income earners has been a centrepiece of this parliament and next month the personal tax allowance will increase to £10,600. This means that by the end of this parliament, Liberal Democrats will have delivered a tax cut worth £825 for 27 million working people and lifted more than 3 million people out of paying tax altogether. This change to the tax system will benefit millions of workers and would not be happening without Liberal Democrats in government. Our 2015 manifesto includes measures to go further with a commitment raise the tax-free threshold to £12,500 by the end of the next parliament.

Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: "Increasing the amount workers can earn before they start paying income tax is one of the most important announcements in this Budget and is a Liberal Democrat flagship policy - straight from the front page of our manifesto, delivering money into the pockets of millions of workers. Today's announcement underlines the sheer scale of the tax cuts delivered by the Liberal Democrats in Government for working households across Britain. Today’s announcements will give 27 Million workers a tax cut worth £905 to a typical basic rate tax payer and lift nearly 4 million out of income tax altogether."

"Delivering income tax cuts for those on low and middle incomes is, was and will be at the heart of the Lib Dem mission to build both a stronger economy and a fairer society - with opportunity for everyone." Mr Alexander added.